Unprecedented public pressure on the Ontario government and the province's police watchdog has led to the partial release of a report on the fatal shooting of a black man in Toronto last summer.
While many of those celebrating the release are hoping it signals an era of greater transparency in police oversight, critics are calling heavy redactions in the report "deplorable" and say it raises more questions than it answers.
"We fought for this and we won, and in that way it is a victory, but it's a victory in a backhanded way," said Janaya Khan of Black Lives Matter Toronto, which has been pushing for weeks for the report to be made public. "It speaks more to the inconsistency and the inadequacy of the [Ontario police watchdog] than anything else."
Since it was announced that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) wouldn't be laying charges against a Toronto police officer who fatally shot 45-year-old Andrew Loku last summer, calls for the release of their investigation report have grown louder and louder. The SIU has never released any of its reports into police shootings since its inception in 1990.
The names of 15 civilian witnesses, nine witness officers, and the officer responsible for the Loku shooting — as well as everything they said — have been redacted from the report, prepared by director Tony Loparco, because those involved in SIU investigations are assured that any information they provide will only be released with their consent, a government press release explained. Only 10 pages of the 34-page review have been made public.
"A report should clarify more discrepancies than create them," Khan said on Friday afternoon. "It raises more concern in its gaps and in its redactions. To release 10 of 34 pages is not transparency. We don't know what the witnesses have said and can't follow up on any contradictions."
'It is a victory, but it's a victory in a backhanded way.'
As the report was made public, the government also announced that Ontario judge Michael Tulloch will be leading an independent review into the province's police oversight bodies.
Tulloch, whose review will include public consultations, has been asked to look into how information in SIU reports could be made public in the future, as well as whether to release past SIU reports, as political opposition parties have been calling.
Last month, Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a 15-day occupation of the steps in front of the Toronto police headquarters, demanding among other things that the names of the officers involved in Loku's death and video footage from inside the apartment building where the shooting took place be released.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, which subsidizes the apartment building where Loku lived and that houses many other tenants with mental health issues, also recently called for an inquest into his death, and shortly after that, the coroner's office announced that there will be one, although a date hasn't been set yet.
According to the report, the SIU investigation included a forensic examination of the scene, Loku's autopsy, police recordings of the 911 call, a partial video of the scene, and eyewitness statements from people who saw the shooting, including the officer responsible and their partner, as well as an independent third party civilian witness.
The report describes a 911 call from someone who said Loku was armed with a hammer, threatening to kill their friend, and refusing to leave their apartment. Shortly before this, the caller and their friend had gone to Loku's apartment to complain about the noise he had been making. Before the cops arrived, another building resident tried to calm Loku down and managed to bring him temporarily inside their own apartment before removing him and "retreating" back inside "as Mr. Loku turned on him/her with the hammer," the report said.
That's when the cops arrived, and took up their positions eight or nine meters away from Loku.
According to the report, Loku — described as a 6-foot man weighing over 200 lbs — started walking towards police officers, armed with a hammer, and ignored their repeated commands to drop it.
"What you gonna do, come on, shoot me," he is quoted as saying, while holding the hammer above his head. Loku started out eight or nine meters away from the officer, but was shot when he got within two to three meters, the report says.
The report contradicts witness accounts like that of Robin Hicks, who appears to be the person in the report who tried to calm Loku down. Hicks told the Toronto Star last week that Loku wasn't holding the hammer in a threatening manner and didn't look like he was about to harm the police.
Hicks' friend Reg Lamontagne told the Star he believed Loku said, "What, you going to shoot me now?" sounding incredulous — not "Come on, shoot me," like the report says.
The report notes that while "much media and public attention" has been devoted to Loku's mental health issues and the fact that he lived in CMHA-subsidized housing, there was no evidence police knew about his mental health and or that the building housed many tenants with mental health problems.
"It is as likely that his intoxication was the reason that he acted the way he did," the report said. Loku's blood alcohol level was 247 mg/100 ml of blood — three times the legal limit, the report stated.
While Loparco found nothing wrong with the actions of the officer who shot Loku, he chastised another Toronto police officer who tried to download and review video from the hallway where the shooting took place.
Members of the public and the CMHA have raised concerns about gaps in the video, which captured some of what happened, but not the actual shooting itself. A forensic investigation, Loparco notes, found nothing "nefarious" about the gaps — the camera simply wasn't working properly.
"I have not as yet heard an adequate explanation for the officer's conduct," the director wrote, adding that this was a "classic example of how conduct of the type in question detracts from community confidence."
Khan and the BLMTO team see the release of the report as a small victory, but remain critical. They says the manner of the release — a media exclusive to the Toronto Star on a Friday afternoon with no warning — "abhorrent" and "degrading," citing its potential to be emotionally traumatizing for friends and family members. Among other issues, the report doesn't contemplate the history of the officers involved or address contradictions within witness accounts, Khan notes.
However, Khan said, "What we see is that protest works. Public pressure on the ground works. As we increase pressure, we're going to see more and more gaps."
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk